Fat Canary in Williamsburg, Virginia
It’s a typical work day: I’m standing in front of my computer, typing, reading, editing, and listening to Friends on Netflix — my background noise. Then, the phone rings. It’s the hostess at the Fat Canary, confirming our reservation for the following week. “I see you’ve put a note here on your reservation, that you’re celebrating,” the hostess says pleasantly. “Anything in particular that you’re celebrating that we could make even more special?”
“Oh, you know,” I begin. “Just … life.”
The hostess gives me a lighthearted laugh and we chat for another minute or so about embracing every day and celebrating the simple things. Little does she know that, given the couple of weeks we’ve had (a death in the family, not to mention two of the busiest weeks either one of us has had at work in a long time), a little life-celebrating in Colonial Williamsburg—one of our favorite places—is just what the doctor ordered.
And it just so happens to house another one of our favorite things: a AAA Four-Diamond-rated restaurant. Joe and I unofficially started ticking Four-Diamonds off of our list a couple of years ago. We’ve started consulting the list any time we travel, keeping our fingers crossed that there’ll be a Four-Diamond within driving distance. I’ve even dined at a Five-Diamond before. It was such a beautiful experience that I literally cried.
We discovered Fat Canary—located in the modernized Merchants Square area located at the western end of Colonial Williamsburg’s main drag, Duke of Gloucester Street—while Googling where we’d have dinner the two nights we were there.
“There’s a Four-Diamond! There’s a Four-Diamond!” I’d called across the house to Joe. “It’s meant to be!”
And now we’re here. Early-bird dining is our M.O.: We tend to roll in at right around five, then enjoy a leisurely meal while we watch the restaurant gradually fill. This evening, the hostess instructs the person showing us to our table to take us to the “chef’s table”—my heart leaps as she says it. Celebrate life, I think.
The table is in the perfect location—right next to the open-air kitchen. We decide to turn our backs on the rest of the dining area so we can watch the show happening in the kitchen. It’s a well-oiled machine. No one’s rushing, no one’s yelling, but everyone is hard at work. We try to identify the different stations: meat, fish, sauce, salad. It’s positively thrilling.
We order cocktails. I decide to try the Apple Pie Old Fashion (bourbon, apple-muddled orange, fall spices, cherry, and dark rum), and Joe opts for the Gold Rush (bourbon, ginger liqueur, and lemon). Both cocktails are exquisite. I know right then and there that if the food is anywhere as good as the cocktails, we are in for quite the treat.
We decide to go with our typical fine-dining game plan: Share everything. For our first course, we have the fricassee of rabbit with wild mushrooms, leeks, sage, and a buttermilk biscuit. It bursts with Fall-tastic flavors that remind me how much I hate that cute animals taste so good. There’s a depth of flavor that makes me think of crackling fireplaces and cozy blankets.
Next, we add in a burst of freshness with a salad: arugula, frisée, duck egg, shimeji (I had to look that one up), celery root, duck prosciutto, and balsamic. Damn you, cute animals. Why are you so yummy?? The salad is decadent, yet light. The crispy prosciutto is like bacon bits on hyperdrive, and the little cubes of celery root are buttery and sweet.
For what turns out to be our last course (we end up being too stuffed to have dessert), we dig into two entrees. First, the daily special: snapper served on a bed of lemon risotto, cherry tomatoes, and romanesco, and topped with lump crab. Um. HELLO. This is one of the best fish dishes I have ever had. The snapper is meaty yet light and buttery. The crab is succulent. And the risotto—its citrusy lushness is the perfect accompaniment.
We also have the pork chop: heritage pork, apple sauce, grilled onion, and—get this—a goat cheese soufflé.
Are you drooling uncontrollably yet? Should I just stop now?
It was another great bite. Heritage pork is pork the way pork should be—meaty and dark and almost gamey. The goat cheese soufflé was light as a feather, but rich as a Rockefeller. Just wonderful.
At that point, we toddle off in the throes of a heavenly food coma to go to a baroque concert at the Governor’s Palace (we’re in Colonial Williamsburg, remember?). But a little over an hour later, as the final notes of the harpsichord are echoing off the walls, we know we haven’t had enough Fat Canary yet. We venture back in, mosey up to the bar, and grab a cocktail menu. My eyes gravitate toward the cocktail with the words “St Germain” listed among its ingredients, but I’m momentarily flummoxed by another item listed: cherry tomato. I flag down the bartender.
It’s delicious. St. Germain and Dolin vermouth muddled with cherry tomato, then mixed with gin. Who knew? I had two.
(Well, one-and-a-half—Joe helped me with my second round. Celebrate life, but also recognize when you need a little help.)